The House measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and required a two-thirds majority for passage, failed on a 277-to-148 vote. Twenty-six Republicans voted with 122 Democrats to oppose the measure, while 67 Democrats voted with 210 Republicans to back it. Ten members did not vote.
The measure would have extended three key provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire on Monday, Feb. 28, unless Congress moves to reauthorize them. One of the provisions authorizes the FBI to continue using roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; the second allows the government to access "any tangible items," such as library records, in the course of surveillance; and the third is a "lone wolf" provision of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act that allows for the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.
The vote came as several tea party-aligned members of the new freshman class had been expressing doubts about the measure.
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who highlighted his opposition to the law during his upstart 2010 Senate campaign, signaled Monday that he may vote ultimately vote against an extension when the measure comes up in the Senate, likely later this month.
"I've had a lot of reservations about the Patriot Act," Paul said when asked whether he's leaning toward voting for an extension. "We're reviewing it and we're going over it, and we will have something out probably in the next couple of days," he added. "We won't be shy about it when it comes out."
Paul's father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), was among the trio of Republican lawmakers who opposed the Patriot Act when the House approved it in October 2001.
Some young conservative lawmakers, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), had not yet decided how they would vote ahead of Tuesday night; Chaffetz later said in an interview after the vote that he had indeed decided to support the measure. A spokesperson for Chaffetz's Utah colleague, conservative freshman Sen. Mike Lee (R), did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, one of the Senate's newly-elected moderate Republicans, Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), said Monday that he's likely to vote in favor of extending the Patriot Act provisions, adding that "it would be smart" for the Senate to back a three-year extension.
"Having it disappear is not the right answer," Kirk said.
Some Democrats opposed to the Patriot Act had seized on Tuesday's vote as an opportunity to question tea-party-backed lawmakers' reverence for the Constitution.
Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who voted against the measure in 2001, released a statement Monday calling Tuesday's House vote "the tea party's first test."
"The 112th Congress began with a historic reading of the U.S. Constitution," Kucinich said. "Will anyone subscribe to the First and Fourth Amendments tomorrow when the PATRIOT Act is up for a vote? I am hopeful that members of the Tea Party who came to Congress to defend the Constitution will join me in challenging the reauthorization."
The Patriot Act has long been an issue that has not divided neatly along party lines. Former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold was the only senator to originally vote against the measure in 2001 and was among the law's most outspoken opponents. But as portions of the law have come up for reauthorization over the years, its opponents have often included both Republican and Democratic members.
The White House on Tuesday said in a statement that it "does not object" to extending the three Patriot Act provisions until December 2011 although it "would strongly prefer" an extension until December 2013, noting that the longer timeline "provides the necessary certainty and predictability" that law enforcement agencies require while at the same time ensuring congressional oversight by maintaining a sunset.
In addition to the House legislation, the Senate is considering three competing timelines, including proposals that would permanently extend the three provisions or extend them through 2013. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), both of whom have introduced competing proposals, said Monday that committee members continue to work toward an agreement but declined to speculate as to the end result.
"We're working on that this week," Leahy said. "It's got to be done. ... I don't want it to be a situation where none of them go through."